How to Take Great Travel Photos

by Ben Soonthornwacharin

Creating beautiful travel websites fuels the wanderlust of the already exceptionally well-travelled FunkyCorp team. And when we travel, we always take a camera. We take photos for ourselves, for our Instagram accounts and sometimes for the websites we work on.

Why images are important

Visuals are often the catalyst for triggering travel inspiration. Whether that’s doing a Google image search or browsing hashtags on Instagram, those dreamy images are an important first step in travel planning. Many travel publications ask writers to supply pictures with their stories, so great shots can increase your income and lead to more work.

Whether you’re a travel writer, a visual influencer or just want to take great shots on your next trip, these tips can help you take better photos:

Frame it (and crop it)

Composition can make or break a photo. Make it clear what you want the viewer to look at, and cut out distractions. A lot of this can be done later by cropping, so if you’re in a rush, take a wider angle shot that you can crop. But thinking about how you want to frame a shot when you’re taking it will help you see the subject in a new way. 

Shiho used cropping to emphasize the bold color combinations of these houses

Follow the rule of thirds

Shiho, our digital marketing associate takes enviable shots of her trips for herself and our team Instagram. She recommends using the “rule of thirds” to create interesting compositions. “I think the eye is naturally drawn to symmetry, but just putting every subject right in the center of the shot is boring,” says Shiho, who points out that symmetry can also be achieved through the balance of light and dark. “When shooting a sunset, I like to put the horizon line in the lower third of the frame, so you get one third land or sea, and two thirds sky.” Most phone cameras have an option in the settings menu to switch on a grid, giving you nine squares. Try aligning points of visual interest with the intersections of the lines. 

Use space to create impact

Use negative space to put the focus on your main subject. It can also give a landscape the feeling of vastness, or create a lonely mood in a city setting. Our senior account manager Nao uses this technique on his epic motorbike trips across the Indian subcontinent and Asia. See how he framed his trusty motorbike with the mountains and sky in Ladakh; it’s also a great use of the rule of thirds. 

Conversely, cropping out all the space will make a shot look crowded. You can emphasize the intensity of a crowded city street, and increase the viewer’s feelings of anxiety.

Nao’s motorbike and the rule of thirds

Let there be lighting

A photo with bad lighting will be hard to fix, even with photo editing software. Our eyes can process the differences between light and dark, much better than a camera. Be aware of where the light is coming from and use it to your advantage. Shadows can help define angles and spaces, or create a mood. The reason photographers often shoot around sunrise or sunset, is that “golden light” that makes everything look better. Shooting in the middle of the day with the sun directly overhead, can look harsh and bleached out, and cast unflattering shadows on faces. When you’re taking portraits, filtered light is more forgiving – a cloudy day is perfect, or you can create filtered lighting with soft shade from a tree, awning or white umbrella. 

Depth and focus 

Depth of field is harder to achieve with smartphones, but one way to let your subject “pop out” by blurring the background. There are plenty of photo-editing apps with a blur effect, but go easy – it’s easy to make a picture look unnatural. 

With a digital SLR camera, you’ll be able to do this by lowering the f-number (aperture). Newer phones have a portrait mode that is supposed to replicate this effect. You can also tap on the part of the screen you want to focus on, which will also ensure that part of the picture is exposed properly. 

Nicole often uses linear perspective in her shots, to achieve a sense of depth.

Edit in moderation

Professional photographers always edit their photos. What you see is seldom “raw” data. Nicole on our production team, is an expert in subtle editing. Her mantra is “Less is more. I aim to make the photo look a little more polished and give it just a little more oomph. If the photo you’ve taken is already good, it shouldn’t need too much editing to begin with,” she says. Whether she’s shooting with her phone or DSLR, she often uses the VSCO app for edits before posting to her Instagram. “When I use a filter, I tend to bring it down to 25% – 50% opacity and adjust other settings like brightness, contrast, warmth and saturation.” She stresses the importance of subtlety: “If I have one definitive tip, it would be to go easy on the saturation! I rarely go higher than 10% – if you go too hard on the saturation, photos end up looking over-processed.”

There are an infinite number of tips and tricks out there, but the key is to create your own vision, and not worry too much about camera settings; we’d love to know how you approach travel photography. What are your tips? Please let us know in the comments below.

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